Architecture firms come in all sizes. Most firms have one principal architect with two or three architectural designers and architectural assistants, plus a couple more drafting and 3D rendering technicians.
The larger ones have typically been in existence for at least a decade or more. They can range from mid to large, consisting of a few partners and dozens of other architects – licensed or non-licensed – and even more junior architects working for them.
One thing is for sure – that they all started small and worked their way to the size they are today.
Below are the different levels of architects you would find in a mid to large size architecture firm:
1. Senior Principal/Owner
The Senior Principal Architect is typically the founder or majority shareholder of the firm. The title held could be President of Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
The Principal Architect may or may not be actively involved in the firm’s day-to-day running, depending on the number of other Principal Architects sharing the load.
- Most probably not involved in the running of projects.
- May choose to appear in important architect-client meetings where major architectural design concepts are being presented and confirmed.
- The role is heavily involved in marketing the firm’s services and communications with the project owners.
- Typically has more than 15 or 20 years of experience in the business.
- Worked from the initial level of Architectural Designer to Architect and strike out on their own to set up a firm; Or, became a Junior Principal, and bought out the firm.
2. Junior Principal/Partner
Could be Senior Architects made Partners whose career grew with the firm. Or, Architects from another firm brought in as Partners or smaller shareholders to manage the firm.
They are actively involved in the day-to-day management of the business.
Title conferred can either be Vice President or Director.
- Attends important architect-client meetings and carries other job responsibilities as the Senior Principal requires.
- Potentially involved in critical design reviews with the Client, other Architects, and technical consultants.
- Any other task as delegated by the Senior Principal.
- Typically has more than 15 years of experience practicing architecture. Or at least 5 years of being a licensed architect.
3. Head of Department
A large architecture firm is typically divided into the Design, Drawings Production, and Contract Administration Departments.
Heads of departments come from the pool of Senior Architects or Senior Architectural Designers in the firm.
- Oversees the work of Architects and managers within the department.
- Responsible for the performance of the department and reports directly to the firm Partners.
- Works closely with the Architects and Senior Architects in formulating strategies for the individual projects and performance targets for the department as a whole.
- Could be a licensed or non-licensed Architect who has worked for more than 10 years in the firm.
- Professional background is either design-based or contract administration-based.
4. Senior Architect
A Senior Architect has job responsibilities similar to that of an Architect. The only difference is in the years of experience and the added skills valuable to the firm, which the Architect does not possess.
- Ultimately responsible for the performance of the particular design or construction projects.
- Chairs meetings with the design consultants and general contractors.
- Oversees the design and documentation stages and manages the contract administration to its completion.
- Supervises the work of junior designers and assistants in the team.
- Reports directly to the Heads of departments.
- Must be a licensed architect.
- Accumulated more than ten years of experience in an architectural practice.
The position of Architect is one where an Architectural Designer has been promoted to upon the successful licensure by the Architects Board.
An Architect may or may not get promoted to a Senior Architect position later, depending on his/her professional development and contributions to the firm.
- May share the responsibilities of the same project with a Senior Architect.
- Ultimately responsible for the performance of a project.
- Attends and chairs client-consultants meetings and construction meetings with the general contractor.
- Oversees the project from design documentation to completion of construction.
- Supervises the work of junior designers and assistants under his charge.
- Reports directly to the Heads of departments.
- Must be a licensed architect.
- Has typically accumulated close to 10 years of experience in an architectural practice
6. Senior Architectural Designer
A Senior Designer is a person who has worked for more than 10 years (of potentially less if proven to be very capable) in the role of a designer. He/she is a valuable asset to the firm.
- The job focus is entirely on the concept design and design development of a project.
- Provides design directions to Junior Architectural Designers in the team.
- Oversees and supervises the work of Junior Architectural Designers.
- Attends and chairs design meetings with the Client and the consultants.
- Works closely with the Architects and Senior Architects to ensure the design is clearly communicated and correctly documented.
- Reports directly to the Head of the Design Department, or potentially straight to the firm Partners.
- Licensed or non-licensed architect.
- An Architectural Designer with more than 10 years of experience in the role and has proven to be capable.
7. Junior Architectural Designer
The junior positions in the Design Department are essential to a firm as they are where graduate architects are groomed and trained to be Senior Architectural Designers or Architects eventually.
- Focuses on the design components of a project.
- Design work may include interior design as well.
- Works under the direction and supervision of a Senior Architectural Designer.
- Attends design meetings with the Senior Architectural Designer.
- Reports directly to the Senior Architectural Designer.
- Non-licensed architect.
- Often less than 5 years of experience in architectural design.
8. Project Manager
A Project Manager is an Architectural Assistant who has gained valuable experience in managing projects and experienced and skilled enough to work on a project independently with minimal supervision.
- The job responsibilities revolve around contract documentation and administration work as required by the Architect or Senior Architects.
- Statutory compliance legwork.
- Reports directly to the Architect or Senior Architect, and in some cases, the Head of Department.
- Has worked for more than 5 years managing projects in the firm.
9. Architectural Assistant
This is an entry-level position where most architecture graduates start. It is a position that involves doing any or all tasks that an architect would do to develop professionally.
- Works under the direction and supervision of a Project Manager or an Architect.
- Assists in design documentation and contract administration.
- Any task as delegated by the Project Manager or Architect.
- Non-licensed architect; fresh architecture graduates
- Typically has between 0 to 5 years of experience in an architecture firm.
10. Intern Architect
Architecture interns get to gain valuable practical experience while they study for their professional degree in architecture.
It is an opportunity to job shadow an Architect or another person in a senior position and observe the day to day running of an architecture firm and projects.
- Does anything and everything as required by a senior in the team.
- Does the necessary legwork in design documentation and contract administration as directed by an Architectural Assistant, Project Manager, or Architect.
- Minimal to zero practical experience in the field.
- A fresh graduate from a pre-professional architecture degree or an architecture student on short-term work arrangements during the semester breaks.
See also the post on the various types of architects to discover that the architecture industry is more diverse than you might think.